The Sun-drenched Cosmic Wave Ride Winds Down

6.5 days remain of my 10-week internship here at JPL. Recently, I have watched many of my new friends complete their own time here and depart for home. The quieter days and nights have given me more time to reflect on what this has all meant. What has been gained from this experience? What did I accomplish, and at what cost?

s Brave climbers with a once proud machine

Steph and Garrett at the top of Mount Echo in Pasadena, after a nice hike to the ruins of a century-old hotel and the cable system which pulled a train up the mountain.

w More Okies in Cali

Microbial Fuel Cell lab tour with TCC/OSU student turned JPL intern Kelsey Shane Davis, TCC Prof Roxanne Davenport, JPL Scientist Amanda Stockton, TCC Profs Thomas Henderson and Mary Phillips, and JPL Scientist Aaron Noell.

I think it is safe to say that the internship has been wildly and smashingly successful, comparatively on the order of a family of feral hippopotamuses in a watermelon eating contest, perhaps. While here, I helped discover and replicate the conditions necessary to perform the Martian regolith amino acid extraction method which the AstroBioNibbler team has been actively seeking for over a year. Along the way I met and learned from a plethora of experts in numerous fields of study–some of which I was previously oblivious to the existence of.

36) Bemused Friends

Bemused friends in the immaculately maintained gardens of Pasadena’s Huntington Museum, repository of literally millions of historical and scientific artifacts and slightly fewer beautiful and exotic plant species from around the world. Marc Higgins, Leah Ginsberg, Kaelyn Griffin.

39) Laura Selliez and a Bamboo Garden

Frenchie-French JPL intern and shining example of happiness Laura Selliez in her trademark “Blue Steel” pose adorns a forest of massive bamboo at Huntington.

While off the clock and out of the lab, no more than a couple of days were spent languishing without at least one or two exciting, educational, or revelatory activities to be immersed in. Relationships were forged, networks were expanded. Cuisine was sampled and new cultural perspectives were added. I am going to miss you, Summer of 2014.

22) SpaceX

Outside of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s private space exploration company which is in the process of revolutionizing human escape from Earth gravity. Not permitted to take pics once inside 😦 but the awesomeness can not be overstated.

x Curiosity 2 year anniversary panel

View from a second row seat of a panel commemorating the 2 year anniversary of the successful landing of Mars Science Lab (Curiosity Rover). From the left: JPL moderator Gay Hill, MSL Deputy Project Mgr Jennifer Trosper, MSL rover drive engineer Matt Heverly, MSL scientist Kim Lichtenberg, MSL media relations specialist Guy Webster, and MSL lead project resource analyst Dennis Young.

On the other hand, I am super excited to get back to Sand Springs and reunite with my girls! Back to school at TCC, back to work in the attics and basements of the fine citizenry of Tulsa, but with a new sense of purpose, and some fresh goals and ideas for the future. I will fly back just in time to Paint the Zoo Blue with TCC and my family. Eagerly gearing up for class, cable slangin’, and bedtime stories.

x Levitt Amphitheater after

Looking back at the crowd, free jazz show at Levitt Amphitheater in Pasadena.

y Hot Club of Detroit

Hot Club of Detroit taking a brief respite between aural tapestry weaving sessions.

z Levitt amphitheater before

Calm before the sonic storm.

So here are some pics from the last few rapidly passing days. Brief captions will have to suffice, as in these final hours there is much else to be finished besides the painstaking craft of the awkward and occasionally eloquent prose which accompanies them from time to time.

38) Huntington Bonsai Garden

More Huntington Gardens, bonsai trees near the zen rocks

37) Huntington Japanese Garden

Elevated view of the stately and serene Japanese Garden

23) Tesla

Drive-by shot of Tesla factory behind SpaceX.

y Dare Mighty Things!

MSL landing 2 year anniversary commemorative photo on the steps of Flight Operations Facility building 321.

v JPL Machine Shop

One of the 4 massive, cutting-edge machine shops at JPL where crucial spacecraft parts are fabricated.

v The view from San O

Permanent shelter for chilling and grilling at San Onofre Surf Beach, my new spiritual home away from home.

u catching some waves

San-O waves coming in.

t Onward to Mount Echo

Mount Echo, Pasadena.

v Inside Goldstone Deep Space Comm Center Museum

JPL Intern field trip to Goldstone Deep Space Network Communications Center, inside the museum. Mimi Audia Parker in the darker yet equally stylish hat, along with fellow space ranger Katie Acord and numerous others.

w Sad goodbye

Tearful goodbye to the genuinely caring and all-around fantastic Leah Ginsberg, with Audrey, Laura, and me.

giant bearings

JPL Intern Emma Dodd for scale next to immense roller bearings from a 70m Deep Space antenna.

giant top view

70m Goldstone DSN antenna aims to intercept the stream of invisible light whose origin is a JPL-built space robot millions of miles away.

giantest antenna group shot

70m Goldstone antenna showing off for the camera.

r JPL in the distance

View of JPL from the top of Mount Echo.

Dodgeball Domination and the Family Reunion at the Center of the Universe

Two weeks of an internship at a world-leading robotic space exploration facility in the middle of a beautiful and bustling metropolis is a ridiculous amount of time to attempt to compress into a single blog post. Why then did I apparently attempt to do so for a second time?

1. Very busy doing awesome mad-scientist experiments, and building and testing (with great success) apparatus heretofore undreamed of.

2. Also very busy hanging out with my FANTASTIC FAMILY OF GIRLS WHO CAME TO VISIT ME FOR 3 FLEETING DAYS!

3. Otherwise busy stuffing my schedule with a variety of fun and exciting activities.

Yesterday I achieved a sunburn whose degree caused me to slow down a bit and spend some time inside my dorm. I earned this semipermanent epidermal damage/warpaint in the most satisfying new way I have discovered nearby: surfing with my space engineer friends. What follows is a brief recap of the first half of my adventures; a second blog post is in the works and will be forthcoming shortly.

ASG 2014

Hey, remember how I said I had volunteered to captain JPL’s dodgeball teams for the 2014 Aerospace Summer Games on July 19th?

We won the dodgeball tournament!

It was a grueling 3 hours or so of elimination rounds and emotional ups and downs, and the final victorious match will live on in song and legend forever amongst a small group of enthusiasts. There were 30 of us on 3 teams against at least 250 other players from outfits such as SpaceX, Northrop Grumman (the overall winners of the ASGs), Boeing, Raytheon, NASA, Parker, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, Teledyne, Booz/Allen/Hamilton, and other prominent area aerospace and tech entities. Only one of our 3 teams made it to the finals, but they mopped up once they got there. They are pictured below.

Max's Team

The team who won it for us. From the left, Meghan Ostermann, Mason Black, Daniel Balentine, Taylor Ingram, Zach Dawson, Bujar Tagani, Thomas Jeffries, Thomas Youmans, Matt Bossart, and Team Captain Maksimilian Shatkhin. Great job everyone! Go JPL!

Dodgeball Champions

Most of the entire team. From the left: Leah Ginsberg, Gerardo Hernandez, Tejas Kukami, Jacob Tims, Meghan Ostermann, Mason Black, Taylor Ingram, Macon Vining, Bujar Tagani, Daniel Balentine, Adam Yabroudi (not on the team but getting in on the action anyway!), Zach Dawson, me with a sunburned head bearing a striking resemblance to our practice dodgeballs, Christian McFall (horizontal), Thomas Youmans, Thomas Jeffries, Matt Bossart, Jason McDonald (is that you?), Katie Grebel, Team Captains/surf homies Maksimilian Shatkhin and Stephanie LaLiberte, Patrick Grant, unidentified photogenic non-team-member with sunglasses, Byron Brantley, Yuki Miles, Erin Main, and Frank Laipert. Looking on is fellow JPLer Seth Smith-Dryden. Not present for pictures but integral to our success: Jeremy Epps, Jeremy Morton, Aleczander Jackson, Jule Ahmar,  Luis Campos Bravo, and the amazing and inexhaustible Lauren Halatek.

 

Though this experience taught me very little about extracting biomarkers from Martian regolith, I learned a great deal about teamwork, preparation, conflict resolution, fairness, and leadership. I also made some great friends and had a ton of fun. Thanks to each of you for your invaluable and unforgettable contributions to this team of champions!

 

SFOF

Now I will speak to you of yet another powerful and moving experience at JPL: the tour of Mission Control and the Space Flight Operations Facility (SFOF) given by SFOF Operations Manager Jim McClure.

 

1) SFOF Entrance

The SFOF at JPL has been operating continuously for the last 50 years and is the central node through which data from every NASA mission beyond Low Earth Orbit flows. Mission Control is located here, so if you’ve watched videos like the ones I’m about to link to, you will recognize some scenes from the next few pictures. If you haven’t seen the “7 Minutes of Terror” video and have time, watch it- it will help the next video make more sense. (Edit: 50 years X 365 days X 24 hours = 438,000 continuous hours of space operations!)

James McClure Jr. is Operations Manager for the Space Flight Operations

Jim McClure, Jr., whose father was Operations Manager before him, gave us the grand tour as well as the opportunity to sit in chairs usually reserved for controllers and operators during crucial events like the Mars Science Lab (MSL or Curiosity Rover) landing in August 2012. He also recounted stories (some hilarious, some deeply poignant) of the artifacts and people who have inhabited this place over the years.

4) Friends in Mission Control

Kevin and Stephanie wear stylish headsets which are normally used by operators and controllers for solar system exploration and a variety of other activities which fall under the general heading: “Winning.”

Smooth Lone Operator

The next room is full of consoles where operators and controllers carry out the day-to-day operations of all NASA/JPL missions in the solar system outside of Earth’s orbit. The screens above show a constant feed of data to and from each of several space craft and rovers, and the 3 Deep Space Network (DSN) antennae sites which monitor them.

002

Here’s an overhead view of Operations (taken on a separate day to illustrate what it looks like all lit up) from the viewing gallery above…

5) Panoramic Mission Control

…and a panorama from down on the floor. Notice the two red placards in the foreground? This is where the Ace (exclusive controller) sits who sends commands to Opportunity, the surviving twin Mars Exploration Rover.

The Other Center of the Universe

In the middle of the floor of this room is the recessed plaque shown here. Jim McClure told us why: Director of JPL Dr. Charles Elachi once reasoned that since the data from all known space craft in the universe converges in this room, it must be the Center of the Universe. My home town of Tulsa has it’s own Center of the Universe too, named so for different reasons. Perhaps there is some connection.

3) DSN and JPL missions

One of the monitors from the previous pics. You might have to click this picture to expand and catch the details. At the bottom of the monitor are three large rows of what look like satellite dishes; these symbols signify data transfer between each of a dozen space missions and the 3 DSN antennae sites here on Earth. One is located here in California at Goldstone (where I will visit next week!) and the other two are in Canberra, Australia and Madrid, Spain. Above this you can see each of the space missions represented numerically and abbreviated, including MSL (Curiosity), MAVEN, JUNO, KEPLER, and others.

 

If you are reading this, Jim, thanks again for sharing some of your experiences with us.

 

Robotics Lab

After the SFOF tour ended with a brisk walk through a not quite ancient underground tunnel to building 264, I finally got to see where Stephanie has been hanging out during her internship. She is helping to develop technology which will one day retrieve Martian samples for analysis back on Earth.

 

Inside the robotics lab

This is a picture of some work being done in one of JPL’s robotics labs with Stephanie’s help. She is a high school math teacher whose internship here will no doubt benefit her students for years to come.

Spider-looking robot

Another robot being developed for possible future use on a planet near you.

 

Mars Yard

On a different day, I went to check out the Mars Yard where Curiosity’s clone hangs out. Luckily, the garage doors were open and I got to see her. I’ve heard that sometimes they take her out for testing on the rocks and dirt in the Yard.

 

Curiosity Up Close

This model has just about every instrument and tool that the one on Mars has. Notice the odd patterns in the wheels? The holes spell JPL in morse code. Some lucky intern probably gets to work with this magnificent beast every day…

Nathan with a destroyed wheel

Hey, here’s one! This is Nathan Stein, an intern with an insatiable desire to destroy wheels! Just kidding; he is actually working with a team of engineers to determine how best to protect Curiosity from damage on Mars.

Nathan with Scarecrow

Nathan with Scarecrow: the wheels-only (no brains) rover unit used for testing mobility and maneuvers in simulated Mars conditions.

Curiosity Scarecrow

Another shot of Scarecrow

 

It is pretty amazing to me that I, a community college student from Tulsa, have the chance every day to talk with and learn from the team of people who are involved in protecting the most sophisticated robot ever built while it cruises around on a different planet. Go humans! And thanks, JPL, NASA, and Tulsa Community College!

 

Birthday Marc: A brief Interlude

 

Birthday Marc

This is Marc the Intern, otherwise know as “Sack of Gucci.” His birthday occurred on the night before I went to the airport to pick up my lovely girls. We surprised him with a cheesecake feast, or would have if Theresa could be trusted with sensitive information…

 

Visited by Ethereal Beings

 

Awesome girls

My awesome girls came to stay with me finally!!!! Here they are at JPL after 7 hours of travelling, super worn out but still gorgeous. I missed them so much and wanted to show them what I have been doing, so the first place I took them was the SFOF. Thanks for helping us all get together, Dad!

Girls at the lab

The next place I took them was the lab I have been working in. Here Aubrey, Athena and Aurora are watching water molecules cavitate under High Intensity Focused Ultrasound!

Fam at the beach

The next day we went to Point Dume in Malibu. We swam in the sunshine and splashed in the great roaring ocean, whose waves were unfortunately a bit too large and powerful for my smallest ones to jump into.

Athena at Point Dume

Athena had a blast and says she wouldn’t mind coming back some time.

Me and Aubrey at Point Dume

Aubrey getting a taste of California.

Rory sand-exploring

Rory climbing the high tide sand wall. At the far end of the beach was a steep cliff where some rock climbers had top ropes set up. We had prepared for this and brought our harnesses, but didn’t get any pics of Rory on the rock face. Had fun climbing anyway.

Cut it out, mom!

Taken later on in the day on the way to get some dinner. It is crazy how old Aubrey is getting. Pretty soon she’ll be old enough for an internship somewhere!

Smiling on top of a little wall

Same evening, different beautiful ladies.

Happy floating munchkins

We concluded each day with a visit to the pool, where the water wasn’t salty and there were no huge, scary waves. These two little fishies loved it.

 

The next morning we decided to go to the California Science Center and check out some IMAX movies and exhibits. We got there super early to beat the crowds, which paid off big time. Only took a handful of pics, though.

 

Waffle licking

Here is Rory licking some syrup out of her waffle at breakfast!

Shining climber

Happy little tree monkey.

Can we go in yet?

Family waiting for the doors to open.

blahblahblahblah

Maxin’ and relaxin’.

Can I eat one?

I am dumbfounded that this is the only picture I got from inside the Science Center. Aurora is looking extra sly in front of the aquarium…

Super happy car family

What looks like a pained grimace on my face is actually a failed attempt at a comical smile. After navigating the growing Saturday crowd at the Science Center, we headed back to the hotel. Vania and Aubrey later got pampered in Arcadia, and the two little ones and I went in for some more swimming pool action.

 

The last day, we went to the Venice Beach Boardwalk and strolled around eating yummy food, listening to music, and watching all the skaters, cyclists, performers, and transients. It was a great day except for the freak lightning strike. We were close enough to hear an enormous ka-boom! but were not in the water, fortunately.

 

Grassy knoll.

Chilling in the shade with an enormous pineapple smoothie.

Orangutan girl.

Rory climbing the rope near Muscle Beach.

Brave Rory

Here’s Rory walking up to give this awesome guy some money.

Girls with robot man

The girls with Robot Man.

Blue sky Aubrey

Aubrey styling.

Vania and Athena in the sand.

Happy girls in the sand.

No hands

Athena on the balance beam near Muscle Beach.

 

After we left Venice Beach. I took Rory to do some indoor bouldering at Cal-Tech.

 

Rope Climber Rory

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye at the airport.

 

I miss my girls even more now, but I’ll be home soon. The first wave of interns left this weekend, more will be gone by the next, and I’ll be on a plane back to Tulsa on the 23rd. Until then, I’m going to learn as much as I can here. Thanks for reading!

Massive catch up post

It has been a busy 13 days. I’m not sure I can remember all of the things that have happened… I’ll have to rely on my automaton-like propensity for snapping pictures in order to navigate and narrate the past 312 hours. I suppose there is nothing left to do but get started.

Ahh, here's a clue... Judging from this poster it appears that I have been working at JPL's NDEAA lab. Many cutting edge technologies and life-saving discoveries come from national research laboratories like JPL, and from people like you and me who care a lot about humanity. Every single day I stumble upon something else that reminds me how fortunate I am to be a part of this all. Click on this picture and strap in for a mind-blowing.

Ahh, here’s a clue… Judging from this poster it appears that I have been working at JPL’s Non Destructive Evaluation and Advanced Actuators (NDEAA) lab. Many cutting-edge technologies and life-saving discoveries come from national research laboratories like JPL and from people who, I have discovered, care an awful lot about humanity’s future. Every single day I stumble upon something else that reminds me how fortunate I am to be a part of this all. Click on this picture and strap in for a mind-blowing.

It’s all coming back now… Here’s another highlight from my whirlwind week-and-a-half: Dr. Charles Elachi– Director of JPL–gave a great talk detailing JPL’s storied history and plans for the future. I’m still waiting for him to reply to my lunch invitation, but not holding my breath. He is a super busy guy. (Edit 7/18/14: Removed picture due to possible proprietary information contained, will check into it. Thanks Alex!)

After some valuable safety training, got to observe procedure in the clean room. This place is the heart and soul of the Micro Devices Lab.

Oh, and here’s a picture of one of the coolest things I got to do! After some valuable safety training, I was allowed into the MDL clean room as an observer while MC Lee broke it down Gangnam style! This place is the heart and soul of the Micro Devices Lab. I got the grand tour.

In the MDL clean room, fantastically tiny devices are constructed, sometimes from vaporized metals in vacuum chambers, an atom at a time.

In the MDL clean room, fantastically tiny and sensitive devices are constructed, often from vaporized metals or other elements in vacuum chambers, atoms at a time.

It's called a clean room because it is kept free of dust particles through air filtering and other careful practices. Prior to entering, everyone must take a high-speed air shower before donning hermetically sealed protective clothing (called a bunnysuit), gloves, eyewear, and a mask.

It’s called a “clean room” because it is kept 99.999% free of dust particles through air filtering and other careful practices. Prior to entering, everyone must take a high-speed air shower before donning hermetically sealed protective clothing (called a bunnysuit), gloves, eyewear, and a mask.

Here I am all bunnied up.

Yours truly all bunnied up and looking snazzy.

The precision achieved here at the JPL Micro Devices Lab could easily be ruined by a single mote of dust in the wrong place.

The precision achieved here at the JPL Micro Devices Lab could easily be ruined by a single mote of dust in the wrong place. Or by a clumsy intern. We escaped disaster.

Some of the rooms are surrounded by glass that filters undesired colors of light. The lights inside these rooms also exclude these colors. Why? Because many of the materials used in these rooms are light-sensitive and must be developed carefully, like film.

Some of the rooms are surrounded by glass that filters out undesired colors of light. The light sources (bulbs, tubes, etc) inside these rooms are also filtered. Many of the materials used for device construction in these rooms are light-sensitive and must be developed carefully, much like camera film. The wrong wavelengths of light could prematurely develop the materials.

Evil but effective cleaning mixture of sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide, called Piranha because it eats everything but the glass.

There is a ton of chemistry being done in here. I distinctly recall this particularly evil but effective cleaning mixture of sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide. It is called Piranha because it eats everything (except the glass.)

The MDL clean room is full of life-saving features, like the HEPA filters that constantly clean the air and suck away Piranha fumes.

The clean room is full of life-saving features, like the HEPA filters behind the sinks that constantly clean the air and suck away deadly Piranha fumes and pesky allergens, and the conveniently located huge red buttons that shut everything down and let everyone know to immediately evacuate the lab.

After a thrilling tour of the MDL clean room, I almost didn't want to leave. But I had to get back to work in another part of the building. Hopefully I get to go back soon!

After a thrilling tour, I didn’t want to leave. But I had to get back to work in another part of the building, presumably. Hopefully I get to go back in here soon to do some work of my own!

Awesome demonstration of formation flight technology at the Robodome inside JPL.

Ahh, this looks familiar. So in a different lab, called the Robodome, I got a chance to witness an awesome demonstration of formation flight technology. This setup consists of a base robot which hovers above the flat aluminum floor on a cushion of pressurized air, accompanied by the flying saucer-like robot perched atop its steel ball (also levitating via pneumatic flow). This effectively enables zero-friction flight which is directed and powered by half a dozen or so tiny compressed air thrusters. Research in this lab is being conducted to learn how to precisely control formation arrays of deep-space robots in order to more accurately characterize the fabric of reality. The project’s secondary goal is to discover a way to ensure at least another 8 seasons of Futurama… OK I just made that part up.

Poster of either twin Mars rover Spirit or Opportunity, located near where they were built and tested at JPL.

Interesting… In my exploration of the complex of buildings at JPL, I must have also found this poster of one of the twin Mars rovers, either Spirit or Opportunity, located on a wall in one of the labs where they were built and tested. Hey wait, that looks like a GIANT CLEAN ROOM!

Poster of tests carried out  by JPL scientists, engineers, and technicians.

Poster of terrain mobility testing being carried out by JPL scientists, engineers, and technicians.

Another great shot of Opportunity (or Spirit)

One more great shot of one of the twin rovers, either Opportunity or Spirit.

Proud JPLers probably in the enormous High Bay clean room, with one of their recently-finished tetrahedral airbag Mars rover landers.

Poster of proud JPLers–probably in the enormous High Bay cleanroom, with one of their recently-finished tetrahedral airbag Mars Rover Landers. Circa 2002 or ’03.

The 2014 Aerospace Summer Games are getting close. I volunteered to be captain of JPL's 3 dodgeball teams and have been minimally organizing and coordinating these dodgeball warriors. We will accept nothing short of total victory.

Hey, I vaguely remember this part of my week too! Apparently, the 2014 Aerospace Summer Games are getting close, and I volunteered to be captain of JPL’s 3 dodgeball teams! I have been minimally organizing and coordinating these fearsome warriors who need no leader. We will accept nothing short of total victory.

Exhausted but still hungry for more action, participants in the second dodgeball practice had to be forced to stop playing due to unsafe visibility conditions caused by the Earth's incessant rotation.

Shown here exhausted but still hungry for more action, participants in the second dodgeball practice session had to be forced to stop playing due to unsafe visibility conditions caused by the Earth’s incessant rotation.

griffith observatory

I and some friends also visited Griffith Observatory! This was once a great place to watch the stars–back before Los Angeles sprawled out and started belching light and smog into the night like some kind of colossal cigar-puffing neon land-squid… Just kidding, the air quality is much better than it used to be, I am told by some natives. Anywho, Griffith is really cool on the inside and has a more than a century of history on display. My friends and I, for 5 bucks, gazed at space and time remarkably painted across the ceiling of the Planetarium, accompanied by achingly dissonant music and the soothing but oddly emphasized words of a live narrator. Well worth the long walk up the hill.

Check out this dope ceiling mural... Griffith Observatory was full of beauty, knowledge, history, and a nice big Tesla Coil, sorry no pics...

Check out this dope ceiling mural up-close by clicking on it’s mysterious textures… Griffith Observatory was full of much beauty, knowledge, history, and a nice big Tesla Coil, sorry no pics…

Griffith Observatory exhibit on Explorer 1, the first US satellite. Discovered the Van Allen Radiation Belt, and was hidden in a closet at what is now the JPL library in order to avoid detection by rival satellite development teams. Thanks for that tidbit, Mickey!

But here’s something else: Griffith Observatory exhibit on Explorer 1, the first US satellite. Built by the folks at JPL in the 50’s. Explorer 1 was the first human satellite with a science payload, discovered the Van Allen Radiation Belt, and was hidden at times in a closet at what is now the JPL library in order to avoid detection by rival military satellite development teams. Thanks for that tidbit, Mickey!

Another beautiful and educational display inside Griffith Observatory.

Another beautiful and educational display inside Griffith Observatory.

Griffith Observatory, lower level gallery. Holy cow, the marvelous wonder of our solar system!

Griffith Observatory, lower level gallery. Holy cow, the marvelous wonder of our solar system!

This guy was enormous. The American Mastodon (if I remember correctly) could grow up to 13 feet tall and regularly stomped cave men into tiny bits and pieces just for the fun of it.

Wait, there are no skeletons at Griffith… This picture must have been taken at the Page Museum near the La Brea Asphalt Pits. As you can see, our extinct friend was freaking gigantic. The American Mastodon (again, if I remember correctly) could grow up to 13 feet tall and routinely stomped cave men into tiny bits and pieces to stave off the boredom of living in a world without books. It did this pretty much every day for like 10,000 years until we finally learned how to make spears, at which time it developed a sweet tooth for tar, and the rest is natural history 😉

Dozens of canine casualties of the La Brea Asphalt Pits' relentless and gloppy grip.

Here are dozens more casualties of the La Brea Asphalt Pits’ relentless and gloppy grip–the Wall of Dire Wolf Misfortune.

Blah BLah

Oh, and here is the entrance to another fantastic place in Los Angeles- the California Science Center! We came here to check out Endeavor, the mighty space shuttle. First, though, we watched a movie in the Science Center’s IMAX theater about the history of the Hubble Telescope and the many shuttle missions to repair and upgrade it. It was narrated by Leo DiCaprio like a boss.

I have seen things throughout my stay here that made me wonder whether I have  been sleeping for 30 years. How did I not know that NASA astronauts have landed on the moon six times? Not just once. Six times. Is that amazing to anyone else but me?

The Air and Space Exhibit was jaw-dropping. I’ve lost count of the things seen throughout my stay here in Cali that have made me wonder: “Have I been sleeping for 30 years?” How did I not know that NASA astronauts have landed on the moon six times? Not just once. Six times. Is that amazing to anyone else but me?

Seeing this real-life space ship brought tears to my eyes. It was hard for me to talk to my friends for a little bit. Of course, many family-oriented feature-length cartoons also have that effect on me, but this was different. Along three walls were  the details of all 135 mission flights of the United States' Space Shuttle Program. The efforts of thousands of scientists, engineers, dreamers, thinkers, and pioneers made possible an unequaled era of exploration and discovery in my lifetime, that again I was mostly unaware of until this summer. Better late than never. The next chapter will be even better, and written in large part by NASA and JPL.

Seeing this real-life space ship brought tears to my eyes. It was hard for me to talk to my friends for a little bit. Of course, many family-oriented feature-length cartoons also have that effect on me, but this was different. Along three walls were the details of all 135 mission flights of the United States’ Space Shuttle Program. The efforts of thousands of scientists, engineers, dreamers, thinkers, and pioneers made possible this unequaled era of human exploration and discovery that all occurred within in my generation’s lifetime, and that I was mostly unaware of until this summer. Better late than never. The next chapter will be even better, and written in large part by NASA and JPL.

Space Shuttle Endeavor's business end.

Space Shuttle Endeavor’s business end.

I went surfing for the first time! JPL Scientist and surfer/mountain unicyclist Morgan Cable graciously accompanied my friends and I to Newport Beach and taught us the basics of not being catapulted to our doom! Here are 3 of my surfing buddies, Steve-O the Magnificent, Stephanie, and Fil. Surely better road companions than these do not exist.

Hey, here is something else super cool that happened to me! I went surfing for the first time! JPL Scientist and surfer/mountain unicyclist Morgan Cable graciously accompanied my friends and I to Newport Beach and taught us the basics of not being catapulted to our humiliation and injury! Here are 3 of my surfing buddies, Steve-O the Magnificent, Stephanie, and Fil. Surely better road companions than these do not exist.

Post surf-induced happiness with Adam,

Post ocean-induced happiness with Adam, Nicole, Steve-O, Francesco, Stephanie, Kristen, Kelly, Me, Morgan, Fil, and Laura.

The Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Hmm… It appears that I also took a trip to the Hollywood Walk of Fame with some friends and took a picture of the Chinese Theater.

hollywood sign through the archway of the high temple of the consumer

Saw the iconic Hollywood sign from far away… Hey, is that the Griffith Observatory up there?

Incongruous alabaster elephant dieties on massive columns overlooking the Temple of Tourism in Hollywood.

Incongruous alabaster elephant deities on massive columns overlooking what I soon realized was a Temple of Tourism and Consumerism, 3rd floor mall in Hollywood.

Not so many tourists flocking to this building...

Not so many tourists flocking to this building…

This is Anwell. He helped Stephanie and I traverse the miles of unfamiliar and forgotten stars and starlets of yesteryear to find the really important ones, like this.

This is Anwell. He helped Stephanie and I traverse the miles of unfamiliar and forgotten stars and starlets of yesteryear to find the really important ones, like George Takei! ZOMG!

Hollywood street cosplay.

Stephanie is disappoint-Wolverine’s physique leaves much to be desired.

A group of musicians who have made arguably one of the biggest positive impacts of any band on several generations of a narrow but important demographic: teenage male science fiction enthusiasts. From their epic rock overture Tom Sawyer, I offer a profound bit of lyric: "...The world is, the world is, life and love are deep... maybe as his eyes are wide..." -Rush

Walking along, I noticed a familiar star on the sidewalk beneath my feet. Here is a group of musicians who have made arguably one of the biggest positive impacts of any band on several generations of a narrow but important demographic: adolescent male science fiction enthusiasts! I was one myself once, not so long ago, and I still feel the echoes of Rush’s shrill and mathematical brand of space rock.. From their epic overture Tom Sawyer, I offer a profound bit of lyric: “…The world is, the world is, love and life are deep… maybe as his eyes are wide…” -Rush

For a brief, shining, gloriously coiffed moment these gentlemen straddled the pinnacle of rock stardom in tight pants and leopard print vests, occasionally. I won't desert you, Steve!

Another band whose imaginative music captured the hearts and minds of multiple generations. For a brief, shining, gloriously coiffed moment these gentlemen straddled the pinnacle of rock stardom in tight jeans and leopard print vests. True love won’t desert you, Steve!

A couple of swell guys.

Just a couple of swell guys.

Another swell guy.

Another swell guy.

My man Tom Jones

My man Tom Jones, the swellest of guys.

han solo

Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now, The Fugitive, Ender’s Game… you deserve a star, sir.

Painted wall in an alley in Hollywood.

Stunning painted wall in a Hollywood alley.

Worth taking a picture of and including, for his many contributions to science, sci-fi, and humanism.

Worth taking a picture of and including, for his many contributions to science fiction as well as actual science discovery.

Almost done, I promise.

Castles made of sand…

Stephanie near Gene Roddenberry's star. Here's a nice quote from the creator of Star Trek:

Stephanie near Gene Roddenberry’s star. You know, the creator of Star Trek. I just learned that his ashes were put into Earth orbit by the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1992. Not long afterwards they of course burned up in reentry, boldly going where no one had gone before.

Wow, it appears that I have been making the most of my time here at JPL. Thanks to my wife, Vania, for taking care of things and people at home. I love you and our girls, sweet heart. Also, thanks go out to Mary Phillips and everyone at Tulsa Community College for enabling me to take part in this life-changing experience, and to David Seabolt and everyone at Cox Communications as well. I’m almost halfway done with it now, but not slowing down any. And if you have made it this far with me, you deserve some kind of reward. Like a bonus at the end of the credits of a movie, only halfway through… ok, how’s this?

Launchus interruptus, the Pasadena Icehouse, and Venice Beach

I am catching up on about a week of activities as I write this because I’ve spent much of my spare time since Monday sleeping! I traveled 6 hours round trip TWICE to witness the launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 satellite at Vandenburg AFB. The first attempt to hit the 30-second launch window at 2:56 A.M. Pacific Time on Tuesday morning (7/1/14) was going great; I and my sleepless, exhilarated new friends (along with about 30 other space enthusiasts from near and far) listened intently to our phones and radios on the dark shoulder of a mountain road overlooking Vandenburg as mission control counted down and completed the final systems checks. About a minute from launch I felt twinges of euphoria and wonder as I reflected on the technological progress we have made as a species. Had our ancestors, the discoverers of fire and the wheel been next to me that night I dare say they would have experienced a vague pride, and probably then quite a bit of fear, and finally very likely some violent territorial anger and primal bloodlust.

15 seconds later I was snapped out of my reverie when it became apparent that something had gone wrong… words like “shut down” and “depressurize” came floating through the fog to my ears in disbelief; apparently there was a failure with water flow on the launch pad. When rockets are launched there is enormous heat directed downward to the pad, and to protect the pad and diffuse some of the acoustic energy the pad is flooded with water, which then is vaporized and rises in massive plumes as the rocket lifts off. “Oh well,” I later thought. “If you haven’t witnessed a launch delay, you aren’t getting the whole space program.”

The launch was rescheduled for the same time on the very next day. All of Tuesday my zombie-like mind just barely had the wherewithal to help organize a second expedition to Vandenburg (only this time I did not volunteer to drive back, special thanks to Leah Ginsberg for her intrepid commitment to science!) So at 2:56 on Wednesday morning I and a new group of interns waited expectantly (with a few less local enthusiasts this time) for what we (or at least I) imagined would be a glorious fireball ascending to the stars… unfortunately and anticlimactically, the marine fog layer between us and the base just barely brightened as mission control counted down past zero and reported a successful launch. Another 6 hours of driving and we got the audio-only version! No matter, life is in the journey. I closed my eyes and felt the roar, and was thankful to be alive.

Here is some info about the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, and here are some dark, murky pictures of the rocket launch friends. I didn’t snap any stills of the first trip; these are from the second one:

Filipe, Francesco, Laura and Leah getting some last-minute supplies.

Filipe, Francesco, Laura and Leah getting some last-minute supplies.

Waiting with Seth, Chris, Laura, Leah, Filipe and Francesco for the show to begin.

Waiting with Chris, Seth, some other guy, Laura, Leah, Filipe and Francesco for the show to begin.

Wednesday and Thursday were interesting at work to say the least… I projected that my alertness and performance levels would probably drop as the day went on, but apparently I have greater stores of adrenaline than I realized. Their account can wait, though; for now I must travel backwards in spacetime and relive the preceding weekend’s sporadic and tornadic activites…

Standard procedure for some employees at JPL, this most excellent of national research laboratories, is a 9 day/80 hour work week, with every other Friday off. The 6/27-6/29 weekend was the first 3-day of my 10-week stay, and I and the other interns were well prepared to recreate and/or vacate. Some went to Las Vegas, others to Six Flags Magic Mountain. I instead saved some money and checked out a local natural attraction, Eaton Canyon Falls Trail.

Brief summary: A long dusty trail followed by a shaded walk along the rocky canyon bottom, winding around outcroppings and boulders, and finally ending up at a cold pool of clear water where a few families were splashing around. Along the way I befriended some natives, including a mom and dad geologist trailing a much smaller geologist-in-training, then a Grateful Dead fan whose voice, guitar and tambourine could be heard echoing through the canyon, and later a group of rappelling enthusiasts.

Pics:

The entrance to Eaton Canyon, about 2 miles from my dorm.

The entrance to Eaton Canyon, about 2 miles from my dorm.

View from inside the gates.

View from inside the gates.

Carrying my bike for about 3/4 of a mile over some beautiful terrain.

Carrying my bike for about 3/4 of a mile over some beautiful terrain.

Teach your children well.

Teach your children well…

Reminder along the way to enjoy life while it lasts, and love the ones around us.

… and enjoy life while it lasts.

The treasure at the end of the trail.

The treasure at the end of the trail.

At the end of the trail, a team of canyoneers were rapelling down what they later explained was the last in a series of waterfalls, and I believe they told me there were 80 or more pools of water on the way down, many large enough to swim through. An all-day adventure for them.

At the end of the trail, a team of canyoneers was rapelling down what they explained was the last in a series of waterfalls. I believe they told me there were 80 or more pools of water on the way down, many large enough to swim through. An all-day adventure for them.

Canyoneers who told me that Eaton Canyon would soon be closed down due to other less intelligent climbers being injured too often.

They also told me that Eaton Canyon would soon be closed down due to other possibly less careful climbers being injured too often. This would be their last descent through Eaton Canyon 😦

When I got back to the dorm a few hours later, I was invited to a stand-up comedy show at the Pasadena Icehouse, the oldest comedy club in the US (verified). The 4 opening acts did a great job warming us up for the headliner: Joe Rogan. He apparently makes regular appearances here, and he would have killed even all by himself.

Joe Rogan on stage at the Pasadena Ice House. An inspired observer of human nature in rare form.

Joe Rogan on stage at the Pasadena Ice House. An inspired observer of human nature, and in rare form.

After the show, we stuck around to talk with Joe Rogan for a while. Once he learned about our connection to JPL, there was plenty to talk about.

After the show, Filipe, Tim and I stuck around to talk with Mr. Rogan for awhile. Once he learned about our connection to JPL, there was plenty to discuss.

Following this (and a completely uneventful and hardly even mentionable drive/walk back to the William Carey dorms, where a hearty and restful slumber was had by all), on Saturday morning a group of us decided to head to Venice Beach and check out the Boardwalk, also celebrating our Puerto Rican friend Nicole’s 25th birthday with Trader Joe’s cupcakes and tap water. Lots of interesting people everywhere there, street acrobats, musicians, tattoo parlors and dispensaries… no worries, Seabolt!

Venice beach store front. On the other side of this building was the boardwalk, like a mile-long circus of art, music, and souvenirs.

Venice beach store front. On the other side of this building was the boardwalk, a mile-long circus of art, music, and souvenirs.

Even rocket scientists need to unwind.

Even rocket scientists need to unwind. From the left: Kaelyn, Stefanie, Nicole, yours truly, Natalie, Kelly #2, Kelly #1, Laura, Leah, Marc, Theresa, Zach D. and Zach T.

I am still not tired of the ocean.

The clouds did not dampen our spirits, and I can’t imagine ever becoming tired of the ocean.

Grown-up toys along the boardwalk. Insert super hero music here.

Grown-up swingset along the boardwalk. Insert super hero music here.

Guided by an insatiable hunger for fried pickles, we approached the pier.

Guided only by an insatiable hunger for fried pickles and our collective intuition, we approached the Santa Monica Pier.

The pickle quest terminus.

The pickle quest terminus.

It was a really nice day at the beach. Enough said. The rest of my weekend was spent exploring a place called The Museum of Jurassic Technology, the inside of which I was not permitted to take pictures of. But if you are ever in L.A., it’s worth a visit. I also ate at Gloria’s Cafe, a fantastic Salvadoran/Mexican restaurant that was on Guy Fieri’s show. I’m not sure that the word “bomb-tastic” translates well into Caliche, and I didn’t ask.

I hope you have enjoyed this latest installment, whoever you are, and that your Independence Day celebrations (or whatever) are filled with the love and laughter of family and friends. Shout out to my women back home: Vania, Aubrey, Athena, and Aurora. I love and miss you.

 

Happiness is a warm jet of subcritical water

Second week of internship is nearly over, still a flurry of events and appointments. Meeting new friends and colleagues, attending JPL-sponsored activities, talks, tours, doing research and my own lab work, fabricating things while avoiding the destruction of sensitive lab instruments, comprehending about 80% of the scientific terminology, acronyms and industry jargon hurled my way in casual conversation… it’s been great. Submitted the Project Plan detailing goals for my time here. Learning what seems like a large amount about how the aerospace and tech industry works.

Attended a laser safety class and learned exactly how quickly, if one is not careful, the human eye can be rendered useless by a sparkly shaft of gleaming photons: pretty much instantly. Also learned that it’s a VERY NOT GOOD IDEA to shine them at airplanes and helicopters, kids…

Ate lunch with the Chief Scientist of JPL’s Earth Science and Technology Directorate, and he gave me some very good advice: “Be the guy with that magic combination of talents, training, and experience that no one else has, like a Computer Science/Physicist/Climatologist, or a Nuclear Engineer/Nanotech/Quantum Theorist… It will be awesome.” Were those his exact words? Perhaps not, but I’m pretty sure I captured the spirit of what he was trying to convey.

Also ALSO learned that the annual Aerospace Summer Games will be happening while I’m here. Began the phase of internship known as “Intensive Dodgeball Training.” In the absence of a suitable high-level dodgeball coach, will be reading up and watching films on the subject.

And now for some hyper-spectral entertainment. What follows are stunningly beautiful images of celestial and terrestrial phenomena, often accompanied by some profound insight or another and arranged in a deceptively ramshackle fashion in order to elicit a specific predetermined subconscious response.

An enormous photo of a pretty sweet lab I get to chillax/work diligently in.

An enormous photo of a pretty sweet lab I get to chillax/work diligently in.

If you enjoy beautiful, otherworldly colors and don't mind listening to the piercing high-frequency drone of diamond tipped mill bits on glass, JPL is the place for you.

If you enjoy beautiful, otherworldly colors and don’t mind listening to the piercing high-frequency drone of diamond tipped mill bits on glass, JPL is the place for you.

As you can see, there was quite a bit of deflection going on... my second one will be better.

As you can see, there was quite a bit of deflection going on… my second one will be better.

Devices on the scale of thousandths of a millimeter. The gentleman creating these (we'll call him "Bruce") used a dicing saw with a blade a few microns thick to slice this silicon into it's current Eggo-Waffular configuration.

Devices on the scale of thousandths of a millimeter. The gentleman creating these (we’ll call him “Bruce”) used a dicing saw with a blade a few microns thick to slice this silicon into it’s current Eggo-Waffular configuration.

Clean room in the MicroDevices Lab. Hopefully I will be observing some microfluidic chips being bonded in here. I'll have to take an all-day safety class and dress up like a surgeon to as not to contaminate the air with my dust.

Clean room in the MicroDevices Lab. Hopefully I will be observing some microfluidic chips being bonded in here. I’ll have to take an all-day safety class and dress up like a surgeon to as not to contaminate the air with my dust.

I was going to find out what this enchanting monstrosity was so that I could explain its presence on this page, but upon further reflection I don't think it needs any such justification.

I was going to find out what this enchanting monstrosity was so that I could explain its presence on this page, but upon further reflection I don’t think it needs any such justification.

You'll have to magnify to read, but well worth it if you're interested in that sort of thing.

You’ll have to magnify to read, but well worth it if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Not sure if brilliant and transcendent statement or actually kind of silly and obvious... found pinned to a corkboard next to a Dilbert cartoon of unfathomable age.

Not sure if brilliant and transcendent statement or actually kind of silly and obvious… found pinned to a corkboard next to a Dilbert cartoon of unfathomable age.

Display this on your high definition television set and attempt to retain some small shred of sanity.

Display this on your high definition television set and attempt to retain some small shred of sanity.

When I ask what the curvy things up there are for, people just walk away. (Must be top secret!)

When I ask what the curvy things up there are for, people just walk away. (Must be top secret!)

I just noticed this today. Another mysterious structure...

I just noticed this today. Another mysterious structure…

Did I mention that there are deer all over the JPL campus? Hard to tell if they are biological or cutting edge surveillance drones... a cuddly disguise, if so.

Did I mention that there are deer all over the JPL campus? Hard to tell if they are biological or cutting edge surveillance drones… a cuddly disguise, if so.

Science lesson: the decay rate of the thermal energy retained by a surface is directly proportional to the area of the anterior quadrant.

Science lesson: the decay rate of the thermal energy retained by a surface is directly proportional to the area of the anterior quadrant.

At the Annual Section Picnic. This serene picture was taken shortly after my second place finish in the watermelon eating contest and my (and my partner Evan's) complete domination of the three legged race.

At the Annual Section Picnic. This serene picture was taken shortly after my second place finish in the watermelon eating contest and my (and my partner Evan’s) complete domination of the three legged race.

One of the guys at the picnic was the Principle Investigator for AVIRIS: the Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer. Before this thing flew over, the pilot called him so we could all look up and see it. Some day I hope to access the image and observe my own tiny red blobbish-looking heat signature staring back at me.

One of the guys at the picnic was the Principle Investigator for AVIRIS: the Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer. Before this thing flew over, the pilot called him so we could all look up and see it. Some day I hope to access the image and observe my own tiny red blobbish-looking heat signature staring back at me.

This Pasadena native knows how to discourage solicitors.

This Pasadena native knows how to discourage solicitors.

More Dr. Seuss trees...

More Dr. Seuss trees…

I procured a new basket from near the receiving dock of a local grocery emporium. This model is burrito resistant, hot-sauce resistant, and washable; three advantages over my recently retired cardboard unit.

I procured a new basket from near the receiving dock of a local grocery emporium. This model is burrito resistant, hot-sauce resistant, and washable; three advantages over my recently retired cardboard unit. *Edit 6/29/14: The plastic crate in question was not ON the dock, it was NEAR the dock (closer to the dumpster, really) upside down, forgotten and abandoned, and crying out in loneliness for a new and more appreciative home.

I find myself strangely compelled to snap a photo of this enigmatic mountaintop every morning... is it possible that these spindly towers are emitting MIND CONTROL RADIATION!?!? I'll just have to take a closer look to find out. More later.

I find myself strangely compelled to snap a photo of this enigmatic mountaintop every morning… is it possible that these spindly towers are emitting MIND CONTROL RADIATION!?!? I’ll just have to take a closer look to find out. More later.

 

Food, friends, and foam

Friday

Started the day at the lab freezing stuff with Mike. The amount of tools, instruments, equipment, and cool stuff on the shelves and in the drawers blows my mind. Down the hall there are 10 other rooms with completely different cool stuff. And outside there are like 100 other buildings… Made progress, took notes, nothing super-exciting to report, I didn’t explode anything (5 days down, 45 to go!)

Later in the day, I also was fortunate enough to attend JPL’s American Heritage International Cuisine Night. There were at least 25 different tents set up with ethnic food served by JPL employees who volunteered to represent their own cultural group. I stuffed myself with the delicacies of 6 nations–who waged a brief gastronomic World War, but eventually realized that there was only one digestive tract to coexist in and then held hands and sang songs.  Ate some Asian Indian chick pea curry, Korean bbq and kimchi, Thai spring rolls with mint, Spanish paella, Latino pastries and potato dumplings, Italian gelato, and I didn’t have any of the American tent’s Rice Krispy treats and chicken pot pie, but I heard they were good too. I also missed the German, Japanese, Native American, Polish, and Armenian tents, but hey I have to look good on the beach here eventually. More on that later.

Saturday

Rented a car and went to JPL scientist friend Amanda’s house for tacos and intrigue in the form of the card game Illuminati. A new favorite. Afterwards took half a watermelon and a cutting board with me, and set out for the Pacific! This would be my first time to really see and splash in the ocean, aside from a dark and cold glimpse of the Atlantic a few years ago.

In Oklahoma, the beaches are OK (hey, new state motto?) but you can’t see the ocean from there. You can from Malibu, though. I went late in the day and avoided some traffic. Parked and walked 50 feet to where land stopped and water began. It was as powerful and serene as I had imagined. I’m going to spend at least a couple more weekends there, and I’m sure my girls will love it when they get here too.

I keep asking the natives where they’d go if they only had 10 weeks. If anyone reading this has been to LA and knows something I simply must do, let me know. So, pictures:

Gound in the lab. Thankfully it didn't wake up and start chasing me around.

Found in the lab. Thankfully it didn’t wake up and start chasing me around.

Here's a closer look at the prototype hands of our future overlords. Just kidding! That's not what we are working on here! I promise.

Here’s a closer look at the prototype hands of our future overlords. Just kidding! That’s not what we are working on here! I promise.

This robot is too handsome to be evil, anyway.

This robot is too handsome to be evil, anyway.

Thanks, JPL.

Thanks, JPL.

The longest line was at this guy's tent.

The longest line was at this guy’s tent.

Yum.

Yum.

The kimchi was my favorite of everything.

The kimchi was my favorite of everything.

I doubt there was any food left.

I doubt there was any food left.

JPL scientist Amanda Stockton and her gracious but devious co-conspirator Jim Davenport. Everyone was smiling and good friends, and then we played Illuminati the card game... Theresa won, and Shane is still mad :)

JPL scientist Amanda Stockton and her gracious but devious co-conspirator Jim Davenport. Everyone was smiling and good friends, and then we played Illuminati the card game… Theresa won, and Shane is still mad 🙂

Look familiar, anyone?

Pacific Coast Highway north of Santa Monica. It's cool seeing all the places mentioned in the songs I grew up listening to.

Pacific Coast Highway north of Santa Monica. It’s cool seeing all the places mentioned in the songs I grew up listening to.

Fun-looking place on the way to Zuma Beach.

Fun-looking place on the way to Zuma Beach.

Zuma Beach. Chalk me up one more transformative encounter with the majesty of nature.

Zuma Beach. Chalk up one more transformative encounter with the majesty of nature.

I feel like a peaceful and calm David Lee Roth in this picture.

I feel like a peaceful and calm David Lee Roth in this picture.

I'm definitely coming back to this spot before I leave.

I’m definitely coming back to this spot before I leave.

The astonishment continues…

Fantastic week.

 

On Thursday morning I met with my mentor Mike Lee again, took a trip to the Micro Devices Lab (where I’ll be working for much of my internship), and then attended an awe-inspiring presentation on “The Future of Robotic Space Exploration” given by Dr. Randii Wessen, who has worked on and led many JPL projects and worn many hats here over the years. The good doctor walked us through some of JPL’s past, current, and future projects. Here are some of the slides from his presentation.

There are three of these located at different spots around the world, so that they can watch the whole sky all the time, I believe I remember Randii saying.

There are three of these located at different spots around the world, so that they can watch the whole sky all the time, I believe I remember Randii saying.

This slide is pretty amazing. Our eyes can't see most of the light in the universe.

This slide is pretty amazing. Our eyes can’t see most of the light in the universe.

The 2020 Mars Rover will be very similar to Curiosity, except for some extra instruments. NASA and JPL plan to cache some samples for a future mission to retrieve and bring back to Earth.

The 2020 Mars Rover will be very similar to Curiosity and include some additional instruments. NASA and JPL plan to cache some Mars soil samples for a future mission to retrieve and bring back to Earth.

Maybe the difference in elevation and cratering between the north and south hemispheres is evidence of huge northern oceans that once covered nearly half of Mars.

Maybe the difference in elevation and cratering between the north and south hemispheres is evidence of huge northern oceans that once covered nearly half of Mars.

Here is a slide that shows how many discovered asteroids are zooming around our solar system besides the planets. Could be some huge ones on a collision course with Earth some day. "The dinosaurs went extinct because they didn't have a space program. And if we go extinct because we don't have a space program, it'll serve us right!" -Larry Niven

Here is a slide that shows how many discovered asteroids are zooming around our solar system. Could be some huge ones on a collision course with Earth some day in the near or distant future… “The dinosaurs went extinct because they didn’t have a space program. And if we go extinct because we don’t have a space program, it’ll serve us right!” -Larry Niven

Dr. Wessen remarked that when the orbiting Cassini satellite passes through Enceladus's plumes of water, the technical term used is "The Cassini Carwash."

Enceladus is a moon of Saturn with a frozen crust that covers at least one huge ocean of water and other volatiles, kept liquid presumably by an active core. Dr. Wessen remarked that when the orbiting Cassini satellite passes through the enormous plumes that erupt from the surface, the technical term used is “The Cassini Carwash.”

Yes, the Earth's atmosphere goes through cyclical CO2 fluctuations... But what is happening here?

Yes, the Earth’s atmosphere goes through cyclical CO2 fluctuations… But what is happening today? Dr. Wessen stressed the importance of drawing our own conclusions. Hey! This would be a great place to include a short research paper I recently wrote on the subject of political affiliation, information media, scientific consensus, and public opinion. Oops, can’t find it right this second, hopefully later.

The significance of this slide escaped me until Dr. Wessen explained that the Mars Opportunity Rover saw the pile of rocks and changed course by itself. Because it was programmed so well, of course.

The significance of this slide escaped me until Dr. Wessen explained that the Mars Opportunity Rover saw the pile of rocks and changed course autonomously. Because it was programmed so well, of course.

A great slide to close the presentation. I invited the speaker, Randii Wessen, to have lunch with me and some friends this Tuesday, and he graciously accepted. I have lots of questions for him. : )

A great slide to close the presentation. I invited the speaker, Randii Wessen, to have lunch with me and some friends this Tuesday, and he graciously accepted. I have lots of questions for him. : )

So that was Thursday, the fourth full day of my stay here so far. I feel time slipping through my fingers and want to soak up everything I can while I’m here. It’s Friday night as I write this post, and I’ll spend some of tomorrow slowing down refocusing on making the most of my internship.  And sightseeing. Some friends are planning a hike to check out the International Space Station as it passes over. I love this place.

Eye candy installment #1… Clicking makes them HUGE!

This was my first view of L.A. Zillions of people just living out their lives

This was my first view of L.A. Zillions of people just living out their lives

Went exploring my first day here, on the way to pick up the craigslist bike. I am beginning to understand why so many people want to live here.

Went exploring my first day here, on the way to pick up the craigslist bike. I am beginning to understand why so many people want to live here.

I get the feeling I am in for some sparkling mornings. All I need is a coffee maker now

I get the feeling I am in for some sparkling mornings. All I need is a coffee maker now

People can't stop staring at my sweet ride.

People can’t stop staring at my sweet ride.

Felt like a total tourist, but took the picture anyway. Cool new building smack dab in the middle of campus, with the mountains keeping watch.

Felt like a total tourist, but took the picture anyway. Cool new building smack dab in the middle of campus, with the mountains keeping watch.

That's what killed the second Terminator. I will try not to knock it over.

That’s what killed the second Terminator. I will try not to knock it over.

Picasso? Renoir? Nope, fooled you. Stuff like this is hanging everywhere around JPL. There is so much beauty to be seen out there in the universe. That humans have learned to build instruments that pierce the veil of the night and reveal it to us is pretty amazing.

Picasso? Renoir? Nope, fooled you. Stuff like this is hanging everywhere around JPL. There is so much beauty to be seen out there in the universe. That humans have learned to build instruments that pierce the veil of the night and reveal it to us is pretty amazing.

Let that sink in.

Let that sink in.

Another of the beautiful images captured and displayed at JPL.

Another of the beautiful images captured and displayed at JPL.

This was a slide from the Greenland Ice Melt talk given by the illustrious and humble Dr. Son V. Nghiem.

This was a slide from the Greenland Ice Melt talk given by the illustrious and humble Dr. Son V. Nghiem.

Final slide from Son Nghiem's talk. Time to step it up, humanity.

Final slide from Son Nghiem’s talk. Time to step it up, humanity.

As a lab intern, my job will be to untangle the hyperconfabulator.

As a lab intern, my job will be to untangle the hyperconfabulator.

Scaled-down model of some craziness that is orbiting us at this very moment.

Scaled-down model of some craziness that is orbiting us at this very moment. *Edit 6/29/14: Actually not at THIS very moment, but at many future moments after its scheduled launch later this year. Also, SMAP.

In case you were puzzled by the acronym...

In case you were puzzled by the acronym…

On the drive home from JPL. Befriending the owner of this house would no doubt entangle me in a sordid world of intrigue and unhappiness.

On the drive home from JPL. Befriending the owner of this house would no doubt entangle me in a sordid world of intrigue and unhappiness.

There are more than 50 other JPL interns staying at the WCIU dorms. Although quiet hours are technically between 10PM and 8AM, in reality they begin around midnightish.

There are more than 50 other JPL interns staying at the WCIU dorms. Although quiet hours are technically between 10PM and 8AM, in reality they begin around midnightish.

First day on the job

Got here Sunday, navigating the airport was tricky but fun. Didn’t appear that any TSA agents unraveled my carefully folded 20-lb bundle of shirts and pants, this saved me ironing everything. Which would be impossible because the dorms here at William Carey don’t allow us to have irons in our rooms. Still have to locate the communal wrinkle vanquishing station, if it exists.

First thing: find transportation. Craigslisted a bike for $80, needed another $200 in improvements to make it street legal. Apparently in California bikes are just like cars and need a headlight and taillight to drive at night. Also, a certain number of reflectors, a license plate (which I am going to attempt to avoid, cross your fingers with me) and a fair amount of confidence to operate in traffic with all the motorists. Luckily I am stretching my road cycling wings in Pasadena, apparently THE idyllic bike-friendly haven for displaced college interns.

Now that I have wheels, acquiring supplies is faster by at least one order of magnitude. If I’m going to be living here for 10 weeks, I’m going to do it comfortably and frugally. Going to see how much furniture I can build with dumpster found materials and borrowed tools. Updates will be forthcoming.

In the meantime enjoy the colorful images I have accumulated for your perusal and my own posterity.